Insights Versus Outcomes

More than sixty years ago, Jerome Bruner’s Woods Hole Conference assembled physical, biological, and social scientists to discuss ways in which they could improve the nation’s educational system. The major recommendation to emerge from that meeting was that the intellectual inquiry on which scientists based their academic research needed to find its way back into the classroom: “The schoolboy learning physics is a physicist, and it is easier for him to learn physics behaving like a physicist than doing something else.”

The central notion of that conference—that teaching and learning rests on providing students with opportunities for inquiry and with access to the deep disciplinary structures that until then had been the sole province of experts—has become one of the underlying assumptions in both teacher and student education. For example, history professors describe history as a “problem solving” discipline; however, rarely do students or teachers see, let alone practice, the processes with which they solve historical problems. These historical processes have been invisible to most history students and teachers.

Teaching and learning rests on providing students with opportunities for inquiry and with access to the deep disciplinary structures that have been the sole province of experts. In particular, humanities students can be immersed in an instructional approach that fosters a way of knowing instead of a body of knowledge. The humanities serve as a blueprint for the contemporary world, and insights can be found in the texts, brushstrokes, and notes of each field.

As we would never consider putting science teachers in classrooms without laboratory experience, we must consider laboratory experience for humanities teachers as essential to their training. This collaborative approach to working in the humanities requires a deep content understanding of the material and culture of a discipline as well as an acknowledgement that the metrics of understanding go beyond short answers and multiple choice tests. Emerging technologies and innovative new pedagogies are part of the tools of a 21st century humanities educator. Each discipline adds a perspective that taken collectively offers a greater understanding of life’s complexities and connections.

In response, the National Humanities Center supports and facilitates this approach to the instructional climate and culture of K–12, pre-college, and university classrooms. We believe that it is imperative to provide our students with the tools necessary to become critical consumers of information and to exhibit and feel comfortable with intellectual complexity that goes beyond simple skills and knowledge banks.

NHC Position Statement

The National Humanities Center has not issued an official statement concerning this issue.

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